Syrian rebels accused of massacre near Aleppo
DAMASCUS, Syria — State-run Syrian media on Saturday accused antigovernment rebels of massacring more than 100 people during an assault last week on a town outside the northern city of Aleppo, the latest alleged mass killing during the Syrian conflict.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency charged that “armed terrorist groups’’ — the government’s term for rebels — killed at least 123 people, mostly civilians but including military personnel, during an attack last week on Khan Assal, west of Aleppo.
The Syrian state media posted grisly photographs online of the remains of people said to have been victims in Khan Assal. Unverified video posted on social media and reported to be from the town showed what appeared to be dozens of bodies lying alongside a wall.
There was no official reaction from the opposition.
A pro-opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said rebels had “summarily executed” 51 people after overrunning Khan Assal after battles that raged on July 22-23. Those executed included about 30 military officers, the group said. Overall, more than 150 pro-government fighters were killed in the battle, the observatory said.
Allegations of massacres have come from both sides in the Syrian civil war war, which has left more than 100,000 dead, according to a United Nations estimate. Lack of access to combat zones has thwarted independent, on-site investigations of reported massacre reports during the conflict, now in its third year.
In May, opposition activists accused government forces of killing more than 100 civilians in coastal Tartus province in retaliation for an earlier rebel attack. The Syrian government said its forces had battled “terrorists” in the area.
Even before the massacre allegations, the town of Khan Assal in northwest Syria had become somewhat infamous as the site of an alleged poison gas attack this year that killed dozens. That incident has become the centerpiece of the still-raging controversy about the purported use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict.
In March, Syrian authorities alleged that “terrorists” had fired a rocket containing poison gas, killing 25 people and injuring 110 others in Khan Assal. The opposition blamed the Syrian government for the Khan Assal attack and for numerous other alleged chemical strikes.
In June, the Russian government, a key ally of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, said its own inquiry had confirmed that the rebels had probably deployed the deadly nerve agent sarin in Khan Assal. But the United States, a major backer of the Syrian opposition, has said it has evidence that government forces in Syria have used sarin.
A U.N. investigation has been delayed for months by a dispute about access for U.N. chemical weapons experts. But U.N. and Syrian officials said Saturday that they had held “productive” discussions in Damacus last week about the long-stalled chemical weapons inquiry. However, there was no definitive word on whether the U.N. inspection team would be allowed to enter Syria.
In Syria on Saturday, government forces on continued their push against rebel fighters in and around the nation’s three largest cities, Aleppo, Damascus and Homs.
The opposition reported that at least 12 civilians were killed in government bombardment of rebel-held districts of Aleppo, which has been split between government and opposition forces for more than a year.
Intense government shelling was also reported in the Damascus suburb of Jobar, long an opposition stronghold, and in neighboring districts. The state media also reported Saturday that the Syrian military had secured the area around the historic Khalid bin Walid mosque in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city and long a focal point of the rebellion.
Special correspondent Nabih Bulos contributed to this report.
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